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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for November, 2013

Book Printing: Creating a Logo with a Transparent Background

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

A consulting client of mine, who is designing a print book, came to me tonight with a quandry. He had a logo in TIFF format that included the name of a company, its graphic mark (two globes), and a tag line below the globes. Unfortunately, the logo file included a white background, and since my client wanted to place the logo over a screen of green on the back cover of the print book, the white background was a problem. When he placed the logo in the InDesign file, the white surrounding the logo obscured the green cover.

He sent me a copy of the file and asked what he should do.

Too Small an Image (Insufficient Resolution)

When I opened the file the first thing I noticed was that the image was minuscule. It was less than an inch in both length and width. The up side of this was that it would be on the back cover, printed over a colored screen. Essentially, it was of minimal importance. It just had to be recognizable as a company logo along with three other logos.

Normally I tell everyone not to upsample artwork. Increasing the resolution and size of an image just creates pixels out of thin air. But in this case, I went against my usual rules and suggested that my client make the art larger (approximately 2” x 4” at 300 dpi). My goal was to work within the limits of the human eye. Since this was the only art my client had for this logo, and since he would be enlarging it, adjusting it, and then shrinking it, before hiding the logo on the back cover, I felt he could break some rules.

Sharpening and Noise

I had my client use Photoshop’s Unsharp Masking tool to sharpen the enlarged image. I suggested that he play with various “Amount,” Radius,” and “Threshold” values. I encouraged him to work at a large magnification in Photoshop and be aware of any “halos” from oversharpening. If this occurred, he could back off on the settings (particularly “Amount”).

I also suggested that he try the Noise and Gaussian Blur filters (under the Photoshop Filters menu). These would minimize some of the flaws introduced by enlarging the image (interpolation). The Noise filters include Median and Despeckle, which I encouraged him to try in particular.

Once the work was done, he could reduce the image in size and place it on the back cover of his print book in the InDesign file, and this would further minimize any flaws (i.e., reduce them to below the threshold of visibility, which was about all he could do, since this was his only logo file).

Removing the Background

The logo file included the name of the company in black text superimposed over two green globes, with a tag line underneath. The only way I knew for my client to remove the background was for him to create a new Photoshop file with a transparent background, and then select the elements of the logo in the original file (everything but the background), copy them, and place them in the new Photoshop file.

To do this, I first asked my client to select the white background with Photoshop’s magic wand tool. Since the white in the logo file was a consistent hue and value, I knew the magic wand tool would easily highlight all background pixels at once. When this didn’t happen exactly as expected, I encouraged my client to use “grow” and “similar” in Photoshop’s “Select” menu to add to the selections until he had highlighted everything he wanted.

Once my client had selected all the white background pixels, he could use the “Inverse” command in the Select menu to make Photoshop switch its focus, deselect the background, and instead select all pixels comprising just the logo mark and tagline.

A New File

I then had my client create a new file large enough to hold the interpolated logo file (easily twice the dimensions of the original). I made sure he gave the new file a transparent background (one of the options for creating a new file).

I then had him copy the selected logo from the original file, place it in the new file, and save the document. One very important fact I pointed out to my client was that when saving the file, he had to check the “save transparency” box in the TIFF Options dialog box that popped up immediately following his request to save the file. Without this notation, I pointed out, the transparency would be lost and the background would again be white.

Testing the Job

When my client saved the file and placed the logo over a colored screen in InDesign, only the silhouette of the logo, type, and tagline were visible. The background was now transparent. My client was thrilled.

A Quick and Dirty Fix

I made it clear that this was only a quick and dirty fix. Enlarging an image (and adding pixels) is a bad idea for high quality work. Only because the logo was minuscule, on the back cover, on a colored screen, and with other logos did I endorse the plan.

(However, if my client had needed crisper edges to the file, my next suggestion would have been to use the pen tool rather than the magic wand to select the elements of the logo. In this case he could have created Bezier curves to ensure a crisper, more precise edge for the type and logo mark.)

Why You Should Care

Photoshop books will provide starting points for the various tools (default values for the variables), but what I have tried to do here is describe the workflow: how to approach a flawed file and work around its limitations.

Although there is often one, or two, best ways to approach a problem, in Photoshop it’s usually wise to also consider the limits of human vision. I just saw the final print book cover (as I was writing this), and my client took another suggestion I had given. He reset the tagline below the logo. By retyping the words in the proper font, he made the text totally crisp and readable. The logo mark and logo type aren’t perfect, but they’re on the back cover with three other logos.

Sometimes it’s prudent to consider the threshold of human vision when designing the cover of a print book.

Commercial Printing: Seven Mechanical Binding Options

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

There are a plethora of binding methods ranging from saddle-stitching (short print books, no spine) to perfect binding (paperbacks with a spine) to case binding (hard cover books). Beyond these are some of the less common options that are flexible and durable but that often involve handwork (i.e., they can be expensive).

Plastic Comb Binding

Also known as GBC binding (the name of the table-top device you use to insert these plastic combs), plastic comb binding is used for short run, multi-page print books. First you punch a series of holes parallel to the bind edge of the book, and then you insert a coiled plastic comb (a spine and curved tines) through these holes. The tightly coiled tines of the plastic comb then tighten through these holes in a manner reminiscent of a spiral notebook, leaving a plastic spine running the length of the book.


  1. You can take the comb out again to add or replace pages.
  2. You can print a title on the plastic spine with custom screen printing equipment.
  3. The open print book will lie flat on a table.
  4. You can find these plastic combs in up to 2” diameter, which will hold more than 400 pages (depending on the paper weight).


  1. You can only punch a limited number of sheets at a time using a GBC machine.
  2. Therefore, it’s a slow process and an expensive one. You would use this option to prepare documents for a small group meeting rather than cartons and cartons of print books.

Velo Binding

Here’s another option for binding a limited run of booklets, perhaps for a convention. Velo binding a booklet involves first punching holes parallel to the bind edge (as with the plastic comb process). Then a flat plastic bar with tines is added, with the tines protruding through the holes. Another bar is added on the opposite side of the binding (picture two thin strips of plastic running from the top to the bottom of the 8.5” x 11” sheet at the bind edge). The tines go through the second plastic bar, and then they are cut off and melted to form a permanent bond. Therefore, the two flat plastic bars running the length of the book hold all the pages together and also give you a spine (of sorts) to hold while reading.


  1. Good for short runs
  2. Durable


  1. You can’t really remove them, add pages, and attach them again, as you can do with plastic comb binding.
  2. The open books don’t lie flat.

Tape Binding

Picture a strip of tape covering the spine of a short booklet and then extending onto the front and back covers, just enough to hold the cover and text pages together.


  1. Good for short runs of a short book
  2. Cheap


  1. You can’t remove the tape, add pages, and assemble the book again, as you can do with plastic comb binding.
  2. You can’t print on the spine; after all, it’s just tape.

Screw and Post Binding

First you drill two or more holes along the bind edge of the book. Then you assemble the screws and posts, which include two pieces each. You insert one piece from one side of the print book (let’s say the front cover side) and one post from the other side of the book. Then you screw them together (they are threaded to attach to one another). It’s like screwing the book together from opposite sides (front and back cover) as though it were a collection of thin wood pages.


  1. You can unscrew the binding to add or replace pages (up to the width of the screw and post set).
  2. Durable


  1. This is handwork. It gets expensive if you are producing a lot of books.
  2. There’s no spine on which to print the book title.

String Binding

You’ve seen the books before. They look exotic. You basically thread some flexible substance, like string or twine, through holes along the bind edge of the book, and then you tie the book together. It will then look a little like a photo album. Depending on the material you choose, you can make it look very environmentally conscious.


  1. You can untie the binding to add or replace pages. It also looks cool and exotic.


  1. This is handwork. It gets expensive if you are producing a lot of books.
  2. There’s no spine. Then again, if you’re creating a limited edition of an exotic book, you may not care that you have no spine on which to print the book title.

Coil Binding

I’m sure you’ve used these in school at one time or another. They come in two varieties. Metal or plastic coil notebooks are bound with wire that spirals from the top of the bind edge to the bottom. When laid flat, you’ll notice that the left and right pages don’t align precisely. That’s because of the nature of a spiral.

If you want the facing print book pages to align, you can choose “Wire-O” binding instead. This binding consists of parallel metal “O”s attached to a vertical wire post.

The coil for coil binding comes in plastic (of various colors) or metal. In contrast, the “Wire-O” binding material comes in only one variety: metal wire.


  1. You can fold the covers and the pages back to create a “tablet” (half the size of an open, double-page-spread book).


  1. You don’t have a spine to print on.

Ring Binders and Post Binders

You can write a book on all the options for ring binders, but essentially they still fit into the category of “mechanical binding.” They would include everything from vinyl that has been heat welded over chipboard to expensive fabric glued over chipboard.

They would also include “poly” binders (plastic thick enough not to need binder boards under the material—as with vinyl binders–but also more flexible than vinyl-covered binder boards). And they would also include thicker, rigid plastic binders.

Post Binders have posts running the length of the spine (in a metal apparatus affixed to the spine). You can remove the posts, insert them into the center spreads of a series of magazines, and then put the posts back into the “metal,” essentially creating a bound year’s worth of magazines.


  1. Binders come in a multitude of thicknesses, from about 1/2” to about 3”.
  2. You can easily add or remove pages.
  3. Binders have a spine. On some binders with transparent plastic exterior sleeves, you can slip printed paper sheets into the transparent spine pocket as well as the front and back cover pockets. On other binders, you can screen print your artwork directly onto the covers and spine.


  1. Useful, but a little clunky compared to other options.

Custom Printing As Far As the Eye Can See

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Having just finished installing an environmental display for a cosmetics event in a major department store with my fiancee, I paused and looked around.

It could have been any upscale department store in the country: a Saks, a Macy’s, a Nordstrom. As far as my eyes could see, there were samples of commercial printing, graphic design, logo design, product design, fashion design, packaging design, digital signage, and more. The store was a kaleidoscope of images to be absorbed and digested. I just wanted to breathe it in for a moment, to bathe in the coordinated ambiance.

Print and Digital Signage

Let’s start with large format printing. There were the banner stands I had just assembled. If the fabric wasn’t linen, I had certainly been fooled: by the thick, soft fabric, by their opulence and rich golden hues. The models in the photos had perfect skin, hair, and make-up. The extended color gamut of the large format printing gave depth and richness to the images.

Moving outward within the same branded cosmetics counter, I saw backlit signage. I looked up close and saw no halftone dots or any other semblance of a screening algorithm. It was clear that this backlit signage had been printed on film at the highest resolution to simulate continuous tone images. I surmised by the brightness of the photos that a backing of opaque white had been printed behind the photo to evenly diffuse the light from behind. I was struck by the use of the same beige tones and the same models who also appeared on the paper and fabric signage.

On an LCD screen built into the cosmetics counter, a video of the same models brought a visual consistency to the branding. I thought back to prior years, when all of the signage was static, and when large format printing in itself was breathtaking, even without movement.

Product and Packaging Design

In such a fashion setting, everything focuses on the otherworldly ideals of beauty, grace, and fantasy. No expense is spared to create the magic of this glamour.

It was clear that thought had been invested in the shape of the bottles of perfume and the boxes that contained powders and lotions. The grace of the curved plastic and the texture and heft of the glass bottles had clearly come from years of research into cultural fashions and the dreams and aspirations of the clientele.

I could see examples of custom screen printing on the bottles using thick, rich inks. Clearly no other technique, except possibly pad printing, could have provided the same quality. And in every case the intense spot lighting accentuated the nuances of the product containers.

There was folding carton packaging to be seen for each product as well. Hot stamped foil adorned the packages, along with laminates, metallics, and spot UV coatings. The metallic inks and the overall sheen radiated opulence, like gold in sunlight. The golden hues not only in this particular display but in other, adjacent locations worked in concert. The designers obviously wanted to create products aimed at a certain social strata, products that reflected the ambiance of the department store but at the same time distinguished themselves from the competition.

Ironically, it was not the overall look of the cosmetics counters but rather their contrast with the earth tones of an adjacent footwear display that stood out. The footwear display used earth tones and slab serif type to give a rugged and utilitarian aura to the products in that station. The contrast between the cosmetics counters and the ecologically minded footwear display was striking.

Even the typefaces sharply contrasted one another. The logotype of all products in the cosmetics display depended on the simple, elegant lines of sans serif type. “Less is more” made perfect sense in this environment.

In contrast, the product logos and typefaces within the footwear display signage were more functional and clunky, reminding me of the difference between a Ferrari and a SUV.

Print Collateral and Identity Packages

I was pleased to still see print catalogs and brochures as well as business cards. There was a consistency in all printed identity packages and collateral, as well as as well as an appreciation for the timelessness and elegance of paper in a digital world. It was not their particular design but rather that they were there at all. Clearly the affluent still value ink on paper, fine writing instruments, and crafted paper products.

All print collateral pieces reflected a refinement that comes from many years of design experience and an awareness of styles and trends. Clearly the finest designers had contributed their artistry to the overall look of this department store.

Book Printing: LumeJet Prints with Light Rather Than Ink

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

It wasn’t that long ago that inkjet printers made it possible for photographers to forego the wet chemical processes of traditional photo printing in favor of inkjet printing their images. It was faster and much, much easier.

Well, the LumeJet S200 is taking a giant step into the past to provide vastly superior custom printing quality using print heads that produce images with light rather than ink or toner. LumeJet does this using fixed or movable printheads, not unlike those on high-end inkjet equipment, to create a latent image on silver halide photosensitive paper, which can be chemically processed to yield prints with a resolution comparable to the clarity of a 4000 dpi inkjet printer.

Here Are Some of the Features

  1. LumeJet prints are created within the much larger RGB colorspace, which will match colors not available in the CMYK colorspace, such as neons, pastels, metallics, and a number of Pantone colors that would be difficult or impossible to to replicate on a CMYK press.
  2. The LumeJet produces continuous tone images, unlike an offset press, which depends on halftoning algorithms to simulate continuous tone photos.
  3. The LumeJet prints both vibrant images and crisp text, even at very small point sizes. Many other technologies that yield superior images (such as dye sublimation printing) unfortunately do not produce crisp text.

When Would You Use Such a Printer?

The LumeJet delivers an A3 press sheet, which is 11 11/16” x 16 9/16”. This is ideal for a layflat coffee table book or other short-run product. For instance, it would be perfect for a wedding photo book; a record of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation; or a fine artist’s, fashion designer’s, make-up artist’s, or graphic designer’s portfolio.

Basically, when the printed book has to be spectacular, this is the ideal custom printing technology.

How Does It Work?

The structure of the LumeJet is not unlike an inkjet printer. Instead of blank paper or film, however, the paper magazine takes 305 mm rolls of photosensitive paper.

In place of an inkjet printer’s print head array, the LumeJet has digital print heads (usually multiple print heads in tandem) that beam photons “of various wavelengths, spot sizes, and power” (from the LumeJet website) using LED array technology (light emitting diodes) along with fibre taper optics and a lens. Either the print heads can move across the paper as they print the tiny dots (.005 mm) that comprise the images and text, or the print heads can be fixed and the paper can move.

The photosensitive printing paper includes three separate light-sensitive (silver halide) coatings in sequence on the substrate (either white paper or film). There’s one for each of the three RGB colors (red, green, and blue). On these three separate layers are grains of dye-sensitized silver halide. Using a subtractive color model (like offset printing inks), the light sensitive substrate can be imaged, and then the latent image can be developed and fixed (in much the same way as photographic prints are produced) to release and then set the colors. The final step is to rinse the print in water to remove any remaining silver halide or chemicals. It can then be dried and bound into the final print book.

Why Is This Important?

More than anything, I think this is important technology to watch because of the high quality it provides. It will fill a niche market for flawless images with an exceptional color gamut, intense blacks, and crisp type at any size. I think automotive, fashion, food, and cosmetics marketing materials will benefit from this process.

However, it does not yet seem to lend itself to high-run printed products. That said, the first inkjet printers I used produced low-quality images slowly, and now the technology has progressed to include web-fed, high-speed inkjet custom printing of textbooks. So things might develop over time (no pun intended).

Finally, I’m glad to see digital printing reaching beyond traditional ink on paper and toner on paper. We’re printing in three dimensions and even creating food with the new 3D additive manufacturing printers, so it seems only fitting that we’re also starting to print with light. And I think it’s a cool twist that the technology reaches back into the past for its silver halide chemical imaging process.

Commercial Printing: Three Things You May Not Know About Paper

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Here are a few thoughts on the nature of paper to help you make prudent design and print buying decisions:

Custom Printing on Colored Paper Changes Ink Colors

When you print on white paper, the white substrate reflects the light back to the viewer without changing it. It does not add or subtract anything from the ambient light, except where the actual commercial printing inks provide color. In contrast, when you print on colored paper stock, the substrate changes the hues of the inks. A yellow or beige paper, for instance, will add a yellowish tint to the inks printed on it.

Therefore, you may not get what you expect when your job comes back from the custom printing supplier, and you definitely won’t see an on-screen image that will look exactly like the final printed product. If your brochure or booklet includes images of people, their skin tone may be less than attractive.

That said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print on a colored stock. To get a more accurate view of how the final printed product will look, you may want to produce an inkjet proof on a sample of the paper substrate.

If you don’t like what you see, you have an option. Asking your commercial printing vendor to add a base of opaque white ink on the colored substrate under the photos will ensure that the paper reflects all wavelengths of light equally and therefore does not add a color cast to the process inks used in the images.

Paper Is Affected by Its Surroundings

Paper is organic. Therefore, it is affected by the surrounding temperature and humidity. Knowing this and accounting for the ambient conditions in the transport and storage of paper is important if you don’t want unexpected results during the custom printing process.

More specifically, the fibers that constitute a sheet of paper can change in thickness as much as 300 percent depending on the humidity. In addition, the same expansion of paper fibers in humid conditions can cause uneven growth or expansion of the paper in its length and width. Since paper expands more along the dimension perpendicular to the grain (known as cross grain), it can “grow” three times as much in this direction as in the direction parallel to the grain. This can wreak havoc with your printing plans.

In addition, exposure to light can change the color of paper and also affect its aging process.

To avoid problems, it’s important to transport and store paper in the proper temperature and humidity conditions and to make sure the paper is adequately wrapped to avoid exposure to light. Your paper manufacturer or printer can explain the specific requirements for your chosen paper stock. They will differ between paper stocks used for different purposes.

(For instance, the paper used for xerox printing is ideally stored at 30 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade (68 degrees fahrenheit), whereas offset printing paper is ideally stored at 50 percent humidity at a temperature of 20 degrees centigrade. Due to the high heat used in laser printing, xerox or digital printing paper prefers a lower relative humidity.)

Finally, plan to have the paper delivered to your printer with adequate time for it to become acclimated to the pressroom temperature and humidity. (This may take 24 or more hours depending on the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures.)

Uncoated Paper Works Better Than Coated Stock for Glue Binding

When you perfect bind a print book, the bindery usually grinds off the spine of the collated press signatures to allow the glue to seep into the paper. This improves glue adhesion, so the pages don’t fall out of the book.

When you use an uncoated sheet for your print book, the paper is both rougher and more absorbent than a coated press sheet. Therefore, the glue has more surface area to grip and hold. This strengthens the binding. In contrast, a coated press sheet (gloss or dull) has a smooth surface and therefore does not provide as much surface area as an uncoated press sheet for the glue to grip.

Here are two ways to counteract this limitation and strengthen the glue bond if you do choose a coated stock for a perfect bound publication like a print book or magazine:

  1. Use a heavier rather than lighter weight printing paper.
  2. Use a cold adhesive glue rather than a hot-melt glue to bind the printed product.

Discuss these options with your book printer. He may have other ideas as well.

Custom Printing: What Is “Transpromo” Printing?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

I’ve been getting mobile phone invoices for several years now, and I’m noticing an increasing sophistication in what would now be generally termed this “Transpromo” or “Transpromotional” printing material.

What Is Transpromo?

Transpromo blends three valuable pieces of the marketing mix.

  1. It includes transactional custom printing, which includes the bills, statements, and invoices that go out monthly to existing customers.
  2. It includes promotional material that builds on the existing relationship between the service provider and the customers to “upsell” new products and services: that is, to sell more to existing clients.
  3. It incorporates client data culled from the existing sales relationship to provide information the client will find useful and relevant (i.e., not mindless fluff).

This marketing mix can be insanely productive if the marketer uses available demographics and other client data to provide pertinent content and offers. Therein lies the challenge.

How It’s Done: Ways to Print Transpromo Material

Transpromo is not new. Think back to all the inserts that accompany your telephone bill, or your gas, electricity, and water bills—or your Visa bill. Inserts placed in the envelope along with your bill qualify (somewhat) as transpromotional custom printing. These would fit in the category of static, offset commercial printing, in that thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies of the same inserts would be printed via offset lithography and then inserted with the invoices into the outgoing direct mail packages.

Another option used over the past years or decades has been the custom printing of color “shells.” In this case, an offset printer would first print the color advertising material on the press sheet and set this aside to dry. At a later date the client (let’s say a billing department of a utility) could laser print or inkjet print the client invoices on these preprinted promotional “blanks.”

A third option that is coming into play with the advent of web-fed inkjet presses is to print the variable data marketing material right on the press sheet along with the transactional billing information as the roll of printing paper streams through the roll-fed inkjet press. This process can print both sides at once, as well. In addition, a savvy marketer can leverage all the customer data that has come from an established relationship with the client to provide images and text that will be especially relevant to him/her. And roll-fed inkjet provides sufficient image quality for such transpromo work to be really spectacular.

Why It Works: The Phone Bill

To explain why this works, let me start by describing my cell phone bill.

  1. It includes the signature yellow company logo (which appears under my printer’s loupe to be sprayed ink droplets–i.e., inkjet printing).
  2. It includes half-page and full-page black and white display ads tailored to my interests.
  3. It includes all of the data and textual information relevant to my account. With a loupe, I can see the ink dots characteristic of type rendered on an inkjet printer.

Why It’s Effective

If you look up “Transpromotional” in Wikipedia, you’ll find a list of six attributes that make transpromo such an effective marketing medium:

  1. Openability: When you pick up the mail each day, you usually find a lot of promotional letters that go right into the trash. You assume they’re irrelevant, so you pitch them. But when you get a bill, you open it (according to the Wikipedia article, the open rate of transpromotional material exceeds 95 percent). To a marketer, that’s almost guaranteed client exposure to the included promotional material.
  2. Engagement: Wikipedia notes that “bills and statements receive more attention than any other form of communication including television advertisements” (from a Group 1 Software, Inc., 2004 Research Study). Again, that’s almost guaranteed client exposure to the marketing message.
  3. Cost Efficient: It’s cheaper to include advertising and other promotional information right on the bill than to print and insert separate marketing pieces into the envelope.
  4. Reporting: Invoices can track not only the client’s buying history but also the service provider’s promotional activity, and this aggregated information can help marketers target future promotional activity. There’s no guessing. Buying histories and demographic data can inform effective marketing strategies based on facts.
  5. Returns: The best customers are current customers. The data and information included in transpromotional marketing initiatives targets and upsells current, active clients, in contrast to other marketing ventures that often only approach cold leads in an attempt to initiate a business relationship.
  6. Customized Offers: Wikipedia notes that transpromotional printing allows for an automated analysis of transactional information to generate relevant marketing copy and images based on “customer demographics, business drivers, and marketing criteria.” In other words, the automated nature of this process allows for cost-effective mass customization of marketing offers.

Book Printing: What You Lose in Moving from Print Books to E-Books

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

I’m starting to see firsthand the trade-offs that come from the migration of print books to e-books. A print brokering client of mine recently produced a 9” x 12” print book of his family experience of the Holocaust. It was printed on an HP Indigo: a short run of 65 copies (soft-cover, perfect bound), just for the family and close friends.

The book has been popular outside my client’s family, so the designer has produced an e-book of the text and photos, and I have been helping him, providing both design advice and logistical suggestions.

Transition from the Print Book to the E-Book

First of all, the Holocaust book (about which I have written in prior blog articles) had a rather complex, multi-column design, incorporating multiple photos of different sizes into the overall look of each page spread. The print book contained sidebars, photos of sample documents from World War II, images of military insignias, newspaper articles, quotes, and sample handwritten letters. It was a beautifully designed and crafted book.

The initial test version of the e-book was a PDF. The benefit of this approach was that the format was “fixed.” It could not change. The book would therefore look the same on any e-reader capable of displaying a PDF document. However, to see the entire page on a small screen (like that of an an iPad), the PDF image would need to be reduced in size. (At this point it would be nearly impossible to read.) Or the reader could just scroll around the full-size page.

To be fair, I have an admission to make. I think multi-column books are not well-suited to an e-book presentation. Here are a few reasons:

  1. You lose the two-page format in which the print book had been designed. Think of a two page spread as a canvas on which the graphic art of page design “happens.” The PDF version of this design chopped the double-page presentation into two individual units, removing the balance and flow that had been designed into the double-page spread.
  2. If you need to increase the apparent size of the PDF on the reading device, you lose the integrity of even the single-page design. Instead, you get an up-close view of the text or a photo, or just a portion of each. You don’t get the whole picture, so to speak.

Changing from a PDF to the Mobipocket Format

Because of the complexity of the print book design, and the ensuing problems in transitioning the print book to a PDF book, the designer and my client abandoned the PDF option in favor of a proprietary e-book format. This format is called Mobipocket, and it is readable on the Amazon Kindle Fire as well as on a number of other devices.

The designer reformatted the Holocaust print book InDesign file into a single-column (rather than three-column) publication. And so I could read the Mobipocket file on my IBM computer and help the designer with any graphic issues that arose, I downloaded the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Previewer software onto my IBM desktop computer.

The book designer created heads, subheads, and introductory text for the e-book. He also anchored photos to specific paragraphs so they would stay with relevant text in the book. The e-book design complemented the print book design. I was impressed. In cases where the photos were too numerous for inclusion within the twelve chapters of the Holocaust book, they were grouped and then uploaded to Flikr, an online, cloud-based repository. The reader of the electronic book would click on highlighted text within the file and be taken to the correct Flikr URL to see photos and captions relating to the highlighted text.

As I watched the designer produce a number of iterations of the book, I noticed a few things:

Even though the designer and I were both using the same version of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Previewer software, the book did not look the same on our respective computers. The text was the same, as was the size relationship (as opposed to the specific type point size) between the heads, subheads, and body copy. But the page breaks were often different on his computer and mine.

For instance, a photo might move to a page by itself, and its caption might move to the following page. I was clear that certain “rules” that the designer had specified (within the e-book style sheets) were in effect. These included the number of lines indented for the initial capital letter beginning each chapter. The “rules” also included the relative size of the heads and subheads, although I know that specific fonts could be changed, along with the size of the type. I also knew these font and type size changes would move design elements from page to page. (That was the root of the problem.)

From discussions with the designer, I realized that these changes would be different from e-reader to e-reader, leaving the designer with little control over the final result.

Best Practices: What Worked and What Didn’t

In this case, I’d say that the e-book is really an adjunct to the print book. If you have both, that’s ideal. If you can only afford the less expensive e-book, at least you can read the text, and the change from a multi-column publication to a single-column e-book does make reading easier than it would have been as a multi-column PDF file (i.e., as an exact duplicate of the Holocaust print book).

The designer has begun each chapter with a large, gray chapter number followed by a headline, a quotation in italics, and then the text, starting with a gray initial capital letter. You know what’s important on each page, and even if the type sizes and typefaces change from e-reader to e-reader, you can still understand the reading order on each page (the hierarchy of importance among the various design elements).

I don’t like that the photos move and leave big white spaces within the text. I understand that this is because the software shifts design elements to successive pages when a photo and caption don’t fit on a particular page on a specific e-reading device (due to technical differences between the devices, or differences in type formatting on various devices). However, I also know that e-readers are evolving, and I understand that at this time in the development of e-books, every e-reader may reflect flaws like these.

However, I also know that readability is paramount in book design and production, and that glitches such as these may confuse the reader and will definitely slow down the reading process.

When I think about the 28 or more formats I saw in Wikipedia for e-book readers, I do worry about the overall “look” of the book on the various e-readers, and I wonder what other problems will arise. It seems that the simpler the page design, the more readable the e-book.

I guess I can rest assured that for complex, coffee-table books, custom printing will probably be the design and distribution format of choice for the foreseeable future.


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